Phoenix will try to avoid playoff elimination at home vs. the Sparks.
Sandy Brondello believes there is a path to beating the WNBA defending champion Los Angeles Sparks.
Whether her Phoenix Mercury can make it down that road Sunday to remain alive in the league semifinals and avert a second consecutive 3-0 exit from the final four will require corrections on both ends of the floor. (Minnesota swept Phoenix out of the 2016 semifinals.)
The Sparks won Games 1 and 2 by an almost identical margin – 79-66 on Tuesday and 86-72 on Thursday – to take a commanding lead in the best-of-5 series. LA is 5-0 against Phoenix this season with only one margin under double-digits (89-87 way back on June 10).
There are teams that the Mercury can beat without offensive production from its power forward position. LA is not one of those because of its defensive ability to at least limit one of the Mercury AllStars, center Brittney Griner or guard Diana Taurasi.
Mercury starting power forward Camille Little has a combined six points in the series on 3-of-7 shooting. The Sparks are leaving her open at times to double team 6-9 Griner, the WNBA regular-season scoring champion who is averaging 20.8 points in the playoffs.
“We need Camille to take those open shots,” Brondello said Saturday. “If not, it makes it hard on the rest of us because it’s basically 5-on-4. We know Camille can do that. It doesn’t mean she takes bad shots, it just means she gets in position where she can make shots. It’s all about the preparation. But then hopefully we can find some more openings for other people. In the end, you’ve got to be aggressive.”
The 6-2 Little averaged 7.1 points in the regular season but did have eight double-figure games (two against LA). If the Sparks must play her more honest with 6-4 Candace Parker or 6-2 Nneka Ogwumike, then Griner has more freedom to post up and shoot.
Brondello has another option at power forward given the return of 6-6 Angel Robinson from a knee injury suffered Aug. 12 that kept her out for 20 games.
Robinson played almost 10 minutes Thursday, helping the Mercury to cut a 15-point deficit to four early in the fourth quarter.
After Robinson signed on June 28, Brondello had plans to play her and Griner together at times that were derailed when both suffered injuries. They have only been healthy together for five games.
“It might be a good advantage for us especially me playing as an athletic 4 and BG playing at the 5,” Robinson said. “If she loves to play the 4 sometimes, I don’t mind playing the 5. So it can be an interchangeable position. It’s huge as far as rebounding, and both of us are mobile for our size. I thought we did a good job cutting down their offensive rebounds. Candace didn’t score as much and we cut the lead a little bit.”
The Mercury are averaging 17 turnovers in the series, helping to fuel the Sparks’ transition game. They have to play stronger with the ball and expect WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard and others to be prodding for steals on every possession.